The FX series “Fargo,” inspired by the 1996 Coen Brothers film, is based in northern Minnesota. As northern Minnesota’s leading pop culture, news, entertainment, iron mining and invasive species blog, MinnesotaBrown is here to review the show through Minnesota eyes. Now, to this week’s episode:
Last week, “Fargo” jumped a year into the future, bringing us to the crux of the unraveling capers and inevitable conflicts. This week, the dark force of Malvo returns to Bemidji to tie up loose ends; and we realize that everyone is back together again; we can’t avoid next week’s conclusion any longer.
Per usual, I’ll be reviewing “Fargo” with my special Minnesota rating system, pegging out at “Oh, ya!” and running down past “Pretty Good,” “Could be worse,” and the midwestern mark of shame: “Interesting.”
“Fargo” Episode 9, “A Fox, A Rabbit, and A Cabbage,” opens on some kind of of gaping maw, a human tongue that at first glance looks like the stomach of a lot of guys you see in the YMCA locker room. As we realize it’s a mouth, the shot pans further and further back to reveal that, after the time jump, Lorne Malvo is a friendly Kansas City dentist all of a sudden. The effect is chilling (for whom do we irrationally fear the most? The dentist). Oh, ya!
ASIDE: the patient sitting in Malvo’s chair was the same actor who played the bumbling cop Davis on the brilliant Canadian TV comedy “Corner Gas.” His name? LORNE Cardinal. If you have never seen Corner Gas, it’s arguably one of the best TV comedies of the 2000s. It has all the upper midwestern accents, small town oddity and dark whimsy of “Fargo,” just none of the murders and relatively little of the evil. They’re making a movie! Oh, ya!
Here’s what the first few minutes of the show are all about. It could get complicated. I could geek out over Stephen Root. (Stephen Root!) But basically the first segment of the show tells us that Malvo is the kind of guy who can set up a long con over six months, including pretending to be a dentist, winning over a beautiful fiancee and becoming the best friend a fellow dentist ever had, all so he could get closer to a kill target worth $100,000. And he’s also the kind of guy who would execute all of those people the moment there was a hint of trouble and walk away from the whole thing. We have known that Malvo was evil. But this episode clarifies that he is the most evil person there ever was. Oh, ya!
One more aside: Stephen Root’s character pushes some Finnish hard liquor on Malvo (which Malvo takes but does not drink, interestingly). In doing so he describes the Finns as “sex-craved alcoholics.” Northern Minnesota is home to a large population of Finnish immigrants, included many of my ancestors. To this I say: True dat.
It was Lester’s confrontation of Malvo in the Las Vegas hotel bar that provoked his evil rampage, and the result was Malvo going on the hunt for Lester. So why did Lester even bother tapping Malvo on the shoulder? Martin Freeman does a nice job showing Lester’s expression when Malvo claims not to know him. He’s hurt. This man changed Lester’s life completely, and now he wants to be recognized. It is pride, which leads the procession of the seven deadly sins.
So, Lester escapes Malvo and, covered in blood, runs upstairs to convince his wife and former secretary Linda to fly home immediately. They’re going to stop off to get plane tickets and passports and take off again for Mexico. The episode allows numerous opportunities for Susan Park to pronounced “Acapulco” in the full Minnesota accent. Pretty good.
Now we’re back in Fargo and see FBI agents Budge and Pepper (Key and Peele) still passing time in the records department. A request for files on the case that landed them in this purgatory spurs them into action. They’re going to some place called Bemdiji to meet some cop named Solverson (whom they assume is a guy).
“A Fox, A Rabbit, A Cabbage” is constantly bringing us to a state of terror over what might happen to the main characters in “Fargo.” One of the biggest examples is when Malvo strolls into Molly’s dad’s cafe for a little chat with the ex-state patrolman. In reminding us of “Sioux Falls” again, the dark episode that caused him to retire from law enforcement, Molly’s dad says the evil perpetrated there was performed as though done by an animal, except “animals only kill for food.” This was something else. Malvo seems to know what he’s talking about, and for all the wrong reasons. Impressively, and very cop-like, Molly’s pa avoids giving Malvo the answers he was looking for and does so without getting killed. But — we will see — this action does not prevent the inevitability of Malvo’s evil from taking place. (Also, Molly’s dad says “prolly” instead of “probably” — very accurate dialect choice). Oh, ya!
As we learn more about Malvo’s true evil, we also see Gus, his daughter and pregnant Molly as a truly happy and loving family. The contrast couldn’t be clearer. Gus, in describing his mail route: “Can’t complain. Takes me out by the lake. A good drive.” This is Minnesotan for “My life is perfect just the way it is.” Oh, ya!
We see Lester scheming to get out of town. Malvo has disarmed him. All the bravado he spent the year developing is gone. He’s prey again, and thinking in short darting, paranoid bursts. But uh-oh, people in Las Vegas knew he was talking to Malvo and those murder victims. They asked Bemidji PD to get a statement. Who’s on her way? Molly. Her resulting interrogation again show that Lester has a hard time lying to Molly, but does so with total abandon. And when the going gets tough, Lester’s sweet wife Linda joins in to save him with a lie of her own. She, too, wants to protect her version of a perfect life. But that’s not possible. Sad, but Oh, ya!
Did you catch Malvo tell Molly’s dad that he hasn’t had apple pie that good since “the garden of Eden.” This would support the theory that Malvo is the devil, or someone who thinks he’s the devil. He’s certainly got unlimited capacity for evil and constant, perfect execution of meticulous plans — many of which involve other people becoming afraid, jealous, greedy or lustful and doing evil for him. Did you catch how he quickly made two small children afraid of their house for the rest of their lives for no good reason? Evil breeds fear.
All Budge and Pepper accomplish in this episode is to finally give recognition to Molly’s good police work, which had been ignored by Chief Bill, Duluth PD and the feds last year. Now Molly has allies and credibility, and that means the showdown with Malvo is coming. Oh, ya!
Does Lester get away, though? Malvo is fixated on making him pay — ostensibly for messing up his long con, but really just because hunting people like Lester is what he does. He can’t find Lester’s new house, but he can find Lester’s new insurance office. Lester suspects he’s in there and does one of the most evil things he’s done since he killed his first wife with a hammer. He sends his new wife, wearing his jacket, into the office to her certain doom. It is utterly heartbreaking. And the die is cast for next week’s bloody conclusion. Episode: Oh, ya!
A thought to consider as we approach the end of this run of “Fargo”: The show’s executive producer Noah Hawley says that a second season is possible, but that “Fargo” Season Two would involve new characters and a whole new plot — one that, like this one, could call back to the movie or the show’s first season selectively.
Of course, knowing that this story will be resolved in just one season (NEXT WEEK!) means we go into a bloody finale knowing that no character is safe. We are all in peril. This psychological element is what makes “Fargo” this year’s best show.
Aaron J. Brown is a northern Minnesota author and radio producer. He wrote “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range,” an earnest, humorous look at the people, history and culture of the unique rural-industrial landscape of northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He is the producer, writer and host of the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio, an ultra-local traveling comedy and music variety show. A columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune, his work also appears regularly in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio and the Daily Yonder.